Film and TV

Reviews for the Easily Distracted:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Title: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Cowabunga? I was mercifully unaware of the turtles during most of their initial run, though I do consider Michelangelo Corey Feldman's finest role.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: One "Ninja Rap" out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Hideously mutated reptiles battle bioweapon-enabled criminals, everybody loses.

Tagline: "Mysterious. Dangerous. Reptilious. You've never seen heroes like this."

Better Tagline: "Not since 2007, anyway."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: The Foot Clan, led by the sinister and unfortunately named "Shredder" (Tohoru Masamune), has New York City in its ruthless grasp. This is what we're told anyway, since life in the Big Apple as depicted in TMNT hardly seems very tense. That all changes when would-be serious journalist April O'Neil (Megan Fox) stumbles upon some vigilantes breaking up a Foot robbery (do they call their lair the "Foot Locker?"). Investigating further, she uncovers the existence of four mutant turtles, named after Renaissance painters and living in the sewers, who've sworn to protect the city. They're also -- surprise surprise -- linked to O'Neil's deceased father and his past research with billionaire industrialist Eric Sachs (William Fichtner).

"Critical" Analysis: You may ask yourself, what does Michael Bay have against the 1980s?

Leaving aside the spiraling debasement of the Transformers series, in which a mildly amusing (albeit widely adored) cartoon franchise is simultaneously tarted up and lobotomized, I have a theory. Platinum Dunes, Bay's production company, recasts and neuters '80s horror movies (to secure an all-important PG-13 rating), right? I believe -- in contrast to the swinging lover-man persona of recent years -- Bay had a series of terrible movie dates in his early years, and is now using his Hollywood power to render unrecognizable all the films he struck out in.

This coming from a guy who actually took a girl to the 1986 Transformers movie. Let's just say my sobbing over the death of Optimus Prime did me no favors later on that evening.

So at first glance, PD's reboot of the TMNT series would appear to be just another cynical attempt to whitewash his terrible cinematic make-out history. If not that, then simply a naked cash grab, right? Not so fast, for while I can't speak to which base Herr Bay reached during the first Turtles movie, what can't be denied is how the Jonathan Liebesman-helmed reboot sports a budget far outstripping any other PD release ($125 million, compared to $10 million for The Hitcher remake). Could this be the first Dunes movie that doesn't take a giant dump on the original? Even considering the original was a movie about irradiated karate reptiles?

I'll give it an "E" for effort. Visually, TMNT is nothing to sneeze at, and the turtles themselves have been rendered in far more fantastical detail than Jim Henson was capable of with the original Creature Shop suits (though if we're picking nits, they look less like turtles than tumescent avocados with shields strapped to their backs). Liebesman and screenwriters Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol), and Evan Daugherty (uh, Divergent) make the turtles themselves mostly likable while also hewing somewhat close to the origins, mercifully abandoning the earlier, Highlander II-esque idea of making the turtles aliens, but still retconning things in order to increase the stakes for O'Neil and Sachs.

As it turns out, this is a terrible idea.

You can accurately accuse Megan Fox of many things -- she married David from 90210, she has hilarious tattoos -- but the ability to act isn't one of them. Here, the only emotions her freakishly Botoxed/lip augmented face are still capable of are boredom -- which was apparently her resting state during the entirety of filming -- and scorn -- reserved for when she's forced to respond to cameraman Vern's (Will Arnett) clumsy advances. I've seen Real Housewives with greater range, and making her the film's emotional center is, in the words of another Arnett character -- a huge mistake.

Interestingly, Vern offers a monologue about the "froth" O'Neil has to report on in lieu of the actual journalism she aspires to (and how quaint that there are still people majoring in Journalism these days). This might as well be Bay himself telling audiences to lighten up about the "movies for teenage boys" he produces.

To their credit, the turtles themselves are occasionally amusing. Most of the original personalities comes through (I assume, only being familiar with Michelangelo), and there are the bare bones of development (Raphael overcomes his anger issues, Leonardo asserts his leadership skills). And who could ever get tired of fart jokes and overt Pizza Hut advertisements? Not me.

But Liebesman, he of Battle: Los Angeles and Wrath of the Titans, uh, "fame," is incapable of making TMNT come across as anything more than another tired Hollywood attempt to make a quick buck on nostalgia properties. And all the advanced technology at his command can't disguise the idiocy of the premise (the bad guy's Diabolical Scheme involves releasing a biological weapon -- from his own skyscraper -- and then to profit on selling the cure he's developed) or make the main characters any less ... cartoonish.

At least he works in a lingering shot of Fox's ass, though. High four.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is in theaters today. About the only thing I can commend it for is the lack of Vanilla Ice.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar